Stephens’s suggestions solid despite cowardly critics

The Southerner

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BY CIENA LESHLEY

“Intellectual,” “great teacher,”  “quirky” and “that guy who rides the bike” are some words Grady students associate with their former English literature teacher, Mr. Stephens. I remember how much I enjoyed his class my freshman year. I was told I was lucky to have him as my teacher.

The recently retired Scott Stephens sent ideas for public school reform, ideas formulated over 25 years, in an email addressed to Maureen Downey of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Downey posted the ideas on her education blog, “Get Schooled.” Along with undisputed reforms (make administrators teach, restore recess), there was one suggestion that led to backlash: eliminate programs for gifted students.

Stephens, a Stanford graduate, listed reasons for his proposal to eliminate the gifted program, yet some readers decided to rebut his suggestion—not with educated counter arguments but with baseless personal insults.

One person, whose screen name was ‘MiltonMan,’ said, “Is this a joke??? I find it hilarious that any APS teacher would be given any platform to spew their thoughts. Remember it took none other then the AJC to uncover the cheating scandal — the same scandal that APS teachers kept hush-hush about.”

No, this is not a joke, but suggesting that a venerated high school educator had a role in covering up systematic cheating in elementary and middle schools surely is. To compare Stephens to the teachers involved in the scandal is not only factually wrong, but also completely shameful. Shame on you, MiltonMan.

Another comment came from the screen name ‘Entitlement Society.’ It read, “Penalize the gifted students because they can fend for themselves. No wonder this came out of the mouth of a government employee. Typical. And you wonder why APS is churning out such winners…”

Each school is different and produces a wide spectrum of students whose success is measured in varied ways. For anyone to reduce thousands of students into a homogeneous mass of “winners” and “losers” is inconsiderate and, frankly, ignorant. This spectrum of success also applies to the teachers, and in many minds, Stephens heads straight to the top of his class.

Whether you agree with all of his ideas, some or none at all is no longer the issue. It’s now an issue of Stephens’s integrity and intelligence. A man who dedicated 15 years to teaching at Grady on top of a decade teaching in Fulton County should have his opinion held at a higher standard than that of an anonymous commentator.

Some call Stephens’s character into question. They are under the preposterous and unsubstantiated belief that Grady and its teachers are cut from the same cloth as those involved in the cheating scandal. To criticize a man for an offense he was not involved in, he had no control over and he would never have condoned, is a disgrace. In the end, it comes down to this: judge the idea not the man behind it.

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